Fifteen years ago today Jim Jones exposed the world to the life of a Harlem man relying on rap to escape crime, incarceration and death. The audio testimony came via his debut album Ghetto Advocate: On My Way to Church.
At the time of the album’s release, Jim’s Dip Set brethren were already on fire. Camron had dropped his Platinum-selling Roc-A-Fella debut Come Home With Me, which was followed by The Diplomats’ Gold-selling effort Diplomatic Immunity and Juelz Santana’s From Me To U (also certified Gold).
Jim was next up to bat.
Prior to August 2004, Jim was recognized more as Dip Set’s red bandana-rocking capo (New York’s ‘rider man’) than a dedicated lyricist. But his freshman effort opened thousands upon thousands of eyes to his talent. Different from the Cam, Diplomats and Juelz efforts, all released through Def Jam and Roc-A-Fella, Jim’s debut came via independent label Koch Records (now known as E1) and offered a relatively different perspective of Harlem, one that highlighted both the growing gang culture and unfortunate street wars that claimed the lives of close friends.
At its core, On My Way to Church was an audio crime drama — “Belly” and “Menace 2 Society” meets gritty East Side escapades, soulful samples, Gangsta Rap-influenced melodies and words of wisdom from Dr. Benjamin Chavis Muhammad. Features from the likes of T.I., Bun B, Bizzy Bone, Chico DeBarge and, obviously, Dip Set also helped enhance the raw body of work.
Though he’d dropped a couple mixtapes and appeared on multiple Dip Set vibes previously, On My Way to Church was the official start of Jim’s rap career. And he didn’t take the opportunity for granted, putting his cinema-worthy life on pro-tools for listeners to enjoy. Since then, he’s went on to flourish — polishing his pen game, dropping multiple hits and, all in all, maintaining relevance in the constantly-evolving hip-hop game.
Fifteen years later, the lyrical portraits of pain, pleasure and prosperity that Jim painted on his debut album are still appreciated. In celebration of the milestone, I’ve included a few of my favorite vibes off On My Way to Church below. Cheers.